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The marine industry is currently operating at high tide following a boom in boat sales in the latter part of 2020.  Figures release by Boats Group earlier this year cited a 9% increase in UK new and used boat sales in 2020, representing an about-turn on the 8% decline the previous year.

With foreign holidays largely on lockdown over the past year, we have seen a resurgence of the Great British ‘staycation’, with many turning to Britain’s waterways for recreational fun and adventure on the water in yachts, dinghies, narrowboats and RIBS.  This trend has not only led to an increase in boat sales, but a whole new community of boating enthusiasts looking to take to the water.

Though good for the marine industry, which prior to 2020 began to show signs of a slowdown, this raft of new boating enthusiasts has brought with it an increase in calls to our team of marine legal experts from policyholders facing legal challenges arising from their hobby.

The naïve navigator

Unlike the purchase and use of motor vehicles, you do not need to have any experience or qualifications to take to the water. Though the Environment Agency does outline a series of rules and regulations to follow whilst using Britain’s waterways, these are not tested or evidenced in the same way as the Highway Code.

Another concern is that while you need to be eighteen years of age to hold a Canal and River Trust boating license, there is no minimum age to skipper a vessel.

Therefore, there is a real risk that amateur boaters may fall foul of these rules and find themselves subject to navigational prosecution. Earlier this year the Broads authority prosecuted at least six individuals for breaching byelaw offenses in the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.

Buyer beware

We have already seen an increase in policyholders engaging in disputes with sellers and surveyors over the purchase of their new or used vessel.

When it comes to the sale of second-hand boats, the general legal principle of “caveat emptor”, or “let the buyer beware” places the onus on the buyer to find out as much about the vessel as possible before purchasing. However, the seller has no legal requirement to disclose known faults or prior incidents unless directly asked by the buyer. This principle is well understood by seasoned boating enthusiasts, however for many newcomers to recreational boating, this may come as an unwelcome surprise, particularly those who purchase a vessel ‘as is’ and either do not know or do not understand the right questions to ask of the buyer to ensure that their vessel is in good, and safe, condition.

In these instances, it’s always wise, particularly for higher-value purchases, for the buyer to employ the services of a surveyor, an expert that can undertake a comprehensive survey of the vessel and produce a report detailing all faults or areas that might cause the buyer problems in future. Though this does offer a good measure of security to the buyer, we’re seeing cases where the surveyor has either missed or not reported on a defect that existed at the time of purchase; in these cases, the buyer may take legal action against the surveyor.

Legal support

There are some basic common-sense approaches that can be taken to avoid legal disputes around the purchase and ownership of a pleasure boat; for example, the use of a reputable seller or surveyor, undertaking thorough research before deciding to buy a boat and making sure an individual has excellent knowledge of the rules and regulations that exist around the country.

However, we believe that having a valid legal expenses policy in place that can cover marine activity is invaluable in case of a costly and complex legal dispute.

Arc Legal are the leading marine legal expenses insurer in the UK, providing cover via the majority of UK pleasure craft insurers, and supported by a team of highly qualified marine lawyers ready to support our policyholders with any queries or claims.

Marine Legal Expenses insurance also offers legal protection for a range of other issues faced including:

  • Personal injury pursuit
  • Contract disputes
  • Prosecution defence
  • Identify fraud
  • Mooring fees
  • Emergency expenses
  • Temporary replacement costs

Richard Finan, Director of Strategic Development, Arc Legal Assistance

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